12 Reasons Why I Bought an Inflatable Kayak

Inflatable kayaks can offer both comparable experiences to other watercraft, and unique experiences of their own for paddlers. As a result, there are many reasons to buy and start paddling in an inflatable kayak. Listed below are reasons I initially purchased an inflatable kayak, with some reasons coming to me through paddling experience as well.

1. Ease of Portability

The size and weight to a watercraft are the main factors to its portability. Hard shell kayaks are typically smaller and lighter than canoes, but inflatable kayaks take it a step further. Inflatable kayaks are specifically designed to be compressed into more manageable shapes, by deflating and folding them.

This is a game changer for transporting. There is no more need for a roof rack on your vehicle. You can now make use of a carry bag or backpack to carry it, instead of awkwardly carrying and walking with your full sized kayak, trying to maneuver through any tight spaces. And as a plus, you can do all of this independently.

2. Compressable Shape and Storage Space

inflatable kayak packed away in a bag in an apartment

The ability to compress an inflatable kayak down into a much smaller, condensed shape isn’t only ideal for portability, it’s also great for storage. Just think of the prospect to being able manipulate the shape of any of your belongings to store them better. This is what an inflatable kayak affords.

No need for the fancy elevated rack, sufficient garage space, or a garage in general for an inflatable kayak. All you need is a much more manageable, rectangular chunk of space to place its deflated, folded, and packed form.

3. Compatible on Different Waters

It is common to see inflatable kayaks on lakes, rivers, and even the ocean. They can move smoothly on calm flat water, while handling the elements to rough water. And there is a wide range in inflatable kayak designs and purposes. If you have that adventurous whitewater river rapids itch, there are specially designed inflatable kayaks just for that. On the other extreme for paddling experiences, there are inflatable kayaks designed for movement efficiency in flat water. If you are like me and enjoy a little of both on different waters, there are plenty of quality inflatable kayaks out there to choose from.

4. Lightweight, Yet Stable

Your average solo inflatable kayak is going to weigh about 30 pounds and a tandem about 40 pounds. Add the fact that they are filled with air, and they seem even lighter. Yet, they are surprisingly stable. The design to an inflatable kayak, compared to other watercraft, gives them certain advantages in stability. Compared to in a canoe, you sit low and closer to the water, lowering your center of gravity in an inflatable kayak. You’re also surely not going to roll an inflatable kayak like you could a hard shell one because of a difference in buoyancy to materials. This companied with a flatter bottom surface, make inflatable kayaks very stable.

paddler demonstrating the stability of an inflatable kayak

5. Comparatively Durable Plastic Materials

Not all inflatable water objects are alike. We’re not talking about the cheap, self deflating plastic inflatable pool objects. For inflatable kayaks, think much thicker and higher quality plastic materials. They are designed for both the situational hazards on the water and the effects of long term use.

pinching the material of an inflatable kayak to show how thick the material is

But so do hard shell kayaks, so why inflatable kayaks? For one, they are better suited for certain hazards, like hitting a large boulder face while whitewater rafting. Inflatable kayaks being air filled, with some give to the material here is a great advantage. And the force and sharpness that is needed to puncture a quality inflatable kayak, could certainly do serious damage to a hard material watercraft.

6. Performance and Movement

With their lightweight nature and air-filled frame, it’s easy to assume that they will be less performance and movement efficient. And that can be true of some inflatable kayaks, but also of some hard shell kayaks or other watercraft. There is a spectrum to design and overall quality, so you pay for what you get in on the water efficiency more often than not. High-quality inflatable kayaks can compete with the best of other watercraft in the calmest to roughest waters, from ponds and lakes to rivers and ocean. Specifically though, inflatable kayaks are designed for easier maneuvering and quick turns, that are essential in some waters like whitewater rapids.

paddler demonstrating how an inflatable kayak allows for flexible movement on the water

7. Positioning Adjustability and Comfort

Inflatable kayaks offer paddlers both comfort and the ability to adjust body positioning. The material is comfortable, as the air filled plastic frame is designed to mold to your weight, like an air mattress would compare to the floor. They also have great stability, seating paddlers pretty much right on the water surface with a flattish and buoyant bottom surface under them. As a result, there is more than typical wiggle room and positioning adjustability possible. Combine a comfortable interior, with the ability to adjust positions, and you end up with longer paddling experiences attainable for inflatable kayak paddlers.

8. Multiple Uses and Accessibility

There are many different water types and intensities that inflatable kayaks get paddled on, but they are not the multiple uses that I’m referring to. It’s all paddling, but not when a person chooses to use their inflatable kayak for another use, like fishing. Fishing in an inflatable kayak is very doable. While inflatable kayaks don’t have the anchored down abilities of a boat, they do have an advantage in accessibility for fishing. An inflatable kayak can get closer and into shallow and weedy waters, for new possibilities in fishing spots.

paddler showing off alternative position on an inflatable kayak

9. Setup and Takedown

For me, there is something more complete and fulfilling to paddling in an inflatable kayak. I think it is the extra personal responsibility and involvement in setting up the inflatable kayak for my paddling experience, and later taking it down and packing it away. There is more personal care and investment in these steps to ensure a better and safer time paddling. It’s like a skydiver packing his or her own parachute.

Well, not quite so extreme. A more suitable version is a camper setting up their tent for the night and taking it down the next morning, instead of sleeping in the luxurious camper.

10. Paddling and Fishing Remote Waters Most Can’t

There are only so many ways to get to remote waters and it’s not going to be by the luxury of your vehicle. Most likely, you are going to have to hike, off trail, for varying distances. Just getting your body to a remote body of water can be difficult, so good luck trudging a full sized hard shell kayak or canoe out there. Inflatable kayaks are your best bet, with their ease in portability. With some extra weight on your back and effort hiking, you could be paddling on a remote body of water in no time. And what’s stopping you from bringing a fishing pole with you to test your luck out there? I’m definitely up for these new paddling and fishing opportunities.

11. Future River Trips

front end of an inflatable kayak on a river landing in fall

Inflatable kayaks are a perfect match for the range of river experiences, from slow flat water to serious currents and rapids. The same goes for the varying water depths and hazards. And whether your river trip consists of a matter of hours, days, or over a week, an inflatable kayak is a great watercraft for a solo or tandem paddler. The longer you are gone, the more precautions to take though.

Overnight trips require knowledge of the river section and campsites, serious packing, and quality paddling at a minimum. But do this, and you get to enjoy all that there is to that river section, from the sights and sounds to the temporary change in lifestyle. I know I will.

12. Combining With Backcountry Hiking and Camping

This one is more of a stretch or just a personal goal of mine. The portability to an inflatable kayak and that of backcountry hiking just fits too well to not ever try to combine them. There are a few major challenges to making this possibility a certainty. For one, you have to try and find a backcountry hiking trail that runs along or meets up with a river that can be paddled down. Take what you can get here.

picture of an inflatable kayak with backpacking gear packed away

And then there is configuring how to carry the extra weight to the inflatable kayak pack, along with your hiking backpack. Consider some questions before proceeding: How many miles of hiking are involved and have you trained with the extra weight? How many nights of camping are from hiking and from paddling? Will you start with hiking or paddling? So many questions, but exciting possibilities.